In the last 25 years we have seen the web enable new digital means for historians to reach broader publics and audiences. Over that same period of time, archives and archivists have been exploring and engaging with related strands of digital transformation. In one strand, similar focus on community work through digital means has emerged in both areas. While historians have been developing a community of practice around public history, archivists and archives have similarly been reframing their work as more user-centered and more closely engaged with communities and their records. A body of archival work and scholarship has emerged around the function of community archives that presents significant possibilities for further connections with the practices of history and historians. In a second strand, strategies for understanding and preserving digital cultural heritage have also taken shape. While historians have begun exploring using tools to produce new forms of digital scholarship, archivists and archives have been working to both develop methods to care for and make available digital material. Archivists have established tools, workflows, vocabulary and infrastructure for digital archives, and they have also managed the digitization of collections to expand access.
At the intersection of these two developments, we see a significant convergence between the needs and practices of public historians and archivists. Historians’ new forms of scholarship increasingly function as forms of knowledge infrastructure. Archivists work on systems for enabling access to collections are themselves anchored in longstanding commitments to infrastructure for enabling the use of records. At this convergence, there is a significant opportunity for historians to begin to connect more with archivists as peers, as experts in questions of the structure and order of sources and records.
In this essay we explore the ways that archives, archivists, and archival practice are evolving around both analog and digital activities that are highly relevant for those interested in working in digital public history.